Researchers test electric iodine propulsion engine for satellites in orbit

Satellites orbiting the Earth at the moment are fitted with thrusters to assist them obtain the specified orbit and keep there. At this time, the thrusters aboard the satellites depend on electrical energy used to ionize and push xenon particles for thrust. As xenon atoms are ionized, they will construct thrust attributable to their weight. The problem with using xenon for thrust board satellites is that the fuel is uncommon, costly, and onerous to retailer.

The brand new electrical propulsion engine that was just lately tested-fired in orbit makes use of another propellant- iodine. The in-orbit check was carried out by an organization known as ThrustMe, using iodine as a propellant. ThrustMe believes its engine might be used to make satellites cheaper and extra environment friendly than utilizing present applied sciences.

The key advantage of utilizing iodine is that it’s plentiful and is cheaper than xenon. One other massive advantage of iodine is that it’s capable of be saved as a strong with out pressurization. Earlier than the in-orbit check, the iodine engine was utilized in ground-based checks that indicated the know-how was possible for small-scale engines for spacecraft.

For its in-orbit check, firm researchers used iodine to energy a 44 pound CubeSat satellite tv for pc. The check engine is known as NPT30-I2, and it was launched into orbit on November 6, 2020. Whereas in orbit, it carried out maneuvers efficiently, and researchers found iodine might obtain greater ionization effectivity than xenon.

ThrustMe believes along with all the advantages talked about above, iodine-based engines might be considerably smaller and less complicated than the engines at present used aboard satellites. Smaller engines for satellites means extra room for payload and devices in the identical dimension chassis. Easier engines would imply much less alternative for failure. The primary motive the iodine engines could be considerably smaller is as a result of there would should be no high-pressure tank since iodine could be saved as a strong.

After its profitable demonstration, the subsequent steps within the testing program to develop the propulsion system can proceed. Whereas getting ready for the orbital checks with the small-scale engine, researchers have additionally been creating variations with elevated efficiency. As well as, workforce members are additionally engaged on an in depth ground-based endurance check program to discover the boundaries of the know-how.

As the worth for launching satellites continues to return down due to corporations like SpaceX and others, a large variety of satellites is predicted to be positioned into orbit within the subsequent decade. ThrustMe needs to search out methods to make satellites extra inexpensive and environment friendly, permitting extra exploration and evaluation of our planet and the universe. Whereas the undertaking is performing properly, researchers be aware there are challenges they’ve to beat.

One problem is the corrosive nature of iodine that requires satellite tv for pc parts to be protected by ceramics. One other problem is bettering the responsiveness of the iodine engines to be on par with these of present xenon parts. Know-how of this kind might have vital implications for all sorts of industries.

Maybe, sooner or later, corporations like SpaceX and others trying to encompass the planet with a constellation of satellites to offer Web connectivity can make the most of the brand new propulsion system. It will assist make the satellites cheaper, which might, in flip, make the service cheaper, permitting extra folks to put it to use. Not too long ago, SpaceX positioned 53 further Starlink satellites into orbit and has plans for tens of hundreds of further satellites surrounding the planet.

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